by Brenda Rothert
An adult standalone, contemporary romance
Sometimes appearances deceive. Take me, for instance. I look like a respectable doctor with his shit together, but the rural Montana mental hospital I work at is actually a sanctuary from my demons. At just thirty-five years old, I’ve already failed on an epic scale. Treating patients at Hawthorne Hill is part of my atonement.
I’ve found peace when a new patient turns me inside out. Allison Cole is a beautiful, haunted survivor who fell into silence after witnessing a murder. But even without words, I’m drawn to her. The closer we get, the more I’m tempted to cross my professional boundaries and give in to my desire.
Soon I find myself in a desperate race to put the pieces of Allison’s silence together. Her life becomes inextricably entwined with mine as I fight to save the second chance I never thought I’d have. I’ll break whatever rules I have to in order to protect this woman who’s been to hell and back. For her, I’ll do harm.
“How are you today, Allison?” Dr. Heaton asks, her familiar tone making it seem like we’re old friends.
I stare out the window of her office, wondering if the weather outside is as nice as it looks. The sun is shining bright in a clear blue sky again, but it’s April. In my hometown of Chicago, April can be a bitch. It’s cold, rainy, and dreary.
And I’m even farther north now. I bet it’s chilly outside, the sun’s rays just giving the illusion of warmth.
“You can talk to me,” Heaton says for at least the twentieth time since I’ve been here. “Everything said in this room is confidential. I’m here to help you work through the grief I know you’re feeling.”
I glance around her office. There are framed diplomas on the wood-plank walls and bookshelves with books and picture frames arranged just so. The photos show smiling people posing for the camera, all of them smiling so perfectly they could be the paper photos that come in picture frames when you first buy them.
A fountain in the shape of a bunch of bamboo gurgles in a corner, and neatly trimmed bonsai trees line the ledge of the large window behind Heaton’s desk.
Even the box of tissues on the coffee table in front of me has been methodically placed, one corner of the square in front of me so it makes a diamond shape. The top tissue is pulled up, its sides still tucked neatly inside. It looks like a tissue fountain, beautifully shaped into a parallel pattern.
That’s not the tissue box of a doctor whose patients feel comfortable crying. If the box were half-empty, with little white specks of tissue dust dotting the coffee table, I’d at least feel like it was okay to use one.
A smile quirks at my lips as I imagine whipping out a tissue or two. I’m picturing Heaton descending on the box right after me to tidy up the tissue fountain and brush away the tissue flecks.